Hawaii soccer: Lex Mata tries to save day against Washington State

Goalkeeper Alexis Mata threw the ball to out to defender Natalie Dixon in the first half of a 1-0 loss to Washington State on Thursday night. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Lex Mata did her part.

Despite a nearly flawless game from the senior goalkeeper, Hawaii lost to No. 24 Washington State 1-0 during its season debut at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium to drop to 2-5-1. Chemical runoff had previously shifted the ‘Bows games to their on-campus practice field in Manoa.

Mata registered 10 saves against an athletic and relentless Cougars squad that saw its season record improve to 6-1-0. In the process, WSU extended UH’s winless streak at home against Pac-12 opponents to 18 games (0-17-1).

“I think Alexis kept us in that game. She made some saves tonight,” Hawaii coach Michele Nagamine said. “Just her reaction and shot-stopping ability, it was phenomenal tonight. It could have easily been three or four more goals. I thought she played it very smart and she has a lot of confidence.”

The Wahine did have success advancing the ball in the very early going. Kayla Watanabe’s attempt saved by Washington State’s Ella Dederick six minutes into the game was the first shot on goal for either team.

But it proved to be the only shot on goal the Wahine had in the first half. For the next 39 minutes, the Cougars proved to be the aggressors with a 10-1 shot on goal advantage over UH by the intermission. Shayna Whieldon’s header in the 41st minute gave Wazzu a 1-0 advantage four minutes before halftime, a lead that lasted all the way through the final whistle.

“Honestly, our mentality going in was this is any team, this is the game we’ve been playing our whole lives so let’s just go out there, have fun and do our best,” Mata said. “I think when we do that and we play our relaxed game, we play some of the best soccer we’re capable of.”

Mata kept the damage to a minimum, even as the Cougars remained on the attack in the second half. The most impressive of her 10 saves came when WSU’s Morgan Weaver’s 76th minute strike was stopped at the bottom right of the goal, keeping the deficit at one.

UH’s Alexis Mata knocked the ball away from the goal in the first half Thursday. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

“I’m proud of this game, not just because of my performance, but as a team we really did some good things tonight,” she said. “We stuck together when it got hard and really fought all the way through and I think we’re looking really good going into conference.”

UH’s last and best chance at an equalizer came when Kelci Sumida’s shot from just inside the penalty box sailed just high of the crossbar at the 82-minute mark.

As Dederick ended up needing just two saves for her clean sheet, Nagamine definitely sees room for improvement in the Wahine attack.

“We did not have the kind of movement off the ball from our midfield that I wanted tonight. They worked very, very hard, but there were some things that we could have been a lot more efficient at,” Nagamine said. “We’re gonna get back to that. We got a little predictable in the attack I thought but we went forward and that was a very, very good thing.”

Although Mata has 11 shutouts in her UH career, she agreed holding a dangerous Washington State squad to just one goal was one of her better performances.

“Yeah, I would say this is pretty much up there,” she said. “I’m glad that it was a TV match and I had family back home watching. I’m glad I could make them proud. It was a good night.”

As one of the tri-captains of this year’s squad, Nagamine believes Mata’s play speaks volumes from a leadership standpoint.

Especially on Thursday night.

“She wanted it bad. I think one of the things that Lex does for us is inspires us through her saves and her effort,” Nagamine said. “The kids see her coming up huge and it gives everybody there a bump in energy and confidence. She led us very well tonight.”